Sarah Coles

Rose Symbolism through the Ages

In Greek myth the rose belonged to Aphrodite, worshipped in Roman times as Venus, goddess of love, beauty and desire. One legend has Venus pricking her foot on a white rose staining it red.  The rose was associated with debauchery – wine, women and song.  By the Middle Ages when white or palest pink it had become associated with the Virgin Mary, and when red with the blood of martyrdom.  Dante’s Paradisio was painted as a double white rose, and St Dominic introduced the earliest Christian rosary, its circle of beads symbolising the enclosed rose garden of the Virgin.

Today no other flower has more cultural significance than the rose. It is displayed in heraldry, on coats of arms and inn signs, on coinage and Labour party posters, the flags of nations and the banners of rugby teams. A bunch of red roses is the ultimate sign of love on Valentines Day. Its beauty has been displayed in sometimes contradictory ways, as love token, warning, a sign of life and a sign of silence, and much more. In her lecture Sarah Coles will be illustrating many of these themes.


Sarah Coles is a garden writer and lecturer. She has written for the Royal Horticultural Society journal The Garden, the Field, Gardens Illustrated and many other magazines.  She led a group round the celebrated rose garden of Sangerhausen in east Germany, and was on the committee of the Historic Roses Group of the Royal National Rose Society for several years.  Among her published books are Gardening on Chalk and Limestone (Crowood Press), and Life, the Universe and Gardening (itg Publishing, US).  She has lectured widely in the UK and abroad.